HARARE-- The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) says it invited political parties and other stakeholders to observe the printing of ballot papers out of courtesy as it is not obliged to do so by any law.

In an effort to improve transparency of the election process, the ZEC last week invited political parties and stakeholders to observe printing of ballot papers, but some opposition parties have complained that the

observation process was not up to their expectations.

The stakeholders were allowed to observe from an observation deck, but they wanted to be allowed into the printing room and be able to touch the ballot paper.

ZEC Chairperson Justice Priscilla Chigumba said here Monday they invited political parties and stakeholders to observe the printing in a bid to improve transparency and not because the law demanded it.

"If we had applied the strict letter of the law we would not have done that exercise in the first place because the strict letter of the law says that we have the exclusive Constitutional mandate to procure ballot papers, to design it, to print it and to distribute it," she said.

"The reason why we keep having these disputes around these areas is that the law does not provide that members of the public or stakeholders be involved in these processes. Our law says that only the ZEC can do

that but despite the fact that this is what the law clearly says, we had then said in the interests of inclusivity and in order to try and build consensus, why don't we do an exercise and allow political parties to sit down, discuss the modalities and then view the printing of the ballot paper.

"Now you can see the reason why we are always reluctant to go outside the parameters of the law because despite what we have done, there is still conflict around it. If there was a legal framework in place the law would state expressly what to do, when, how and why."

Chigumba said it was difficult to satisfy all the demands made by political parties in the absence of a legal framework. "?The difficulty we are having is that no one is satisfied, different political parties, different stakeholders want different things," she said.

She said once printing was done, the number of printed ballot papers would be publicized while the printing company would handle distribution of voting material and not the military as alleged in some quarters.

Commenting on demands from the opposition to release the voters' roll complete with pictures of prospective voters, Chigumba said the commission would not bow to pressure. "We will not be releasing pictures of the voters to the public and this is because the right to access to information is not absolute, it must be juggled with the right to privacy," she added.

"So the format in which we have released the voters' roll, the information that we have given on the voters' roll is sufficient to fulfill our constitutional mandate that we must provide a final voters' roll which is analyzable and which is searchable.

"The information which is there on the voters? roll assists anyone who would like to analyse our voters' roll without impinging on other people's rights to privacy. So we will not be releasing pictures."

Chigumba said the ZEC was Conducting final preparations for the July 30 elections. The ZEC has recruited about 130,000 officers required for the polling exercise, including 210 constituency election officers and their deputies as well as more than 1,000 ward election officers and their deputies.

"The recruitment of 10,958 presiding officers will be finalised by the end of this week while that of polling officers will be concluded on 20 July, 2018," she said.

The commission has established a total of 10,985 polling stations throughout the country while 830 election observers have so far been accredited in preparation for the elections.

"We are satisfied as a commission that our preparations are well on course and we are satisfied that we are ready to discharge our mandate in accordance with the law."